Category: Budget & Finance

5 Ways To Be Happy(er) About Paying Bills

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I can’t help it.

Music, coffee, and a smile are how I greet my bills. I’ve always felt awesome about paying bills but took for granted that was a normal feeling. Over time, I realize that many people are so busy feeling the loss of what they can’t do with that money that they are getting the joy of paying bills stolen right from them. That makes me sad and I hope to help out some of those people (maybe even you?) with these tips.

No One is Going to Disney-Land-World with the Electric Bill Money

One bill is not big enough for anyone to take a vacation on. I found myself slipping on this one a little while I paid my six-month auto insurance premium and my main credit card off. “If I just carried all that credit card debt I could have taken the kids to DisneyWorld, man.” I thought sadly. Then I kind of had a moment and swung over to the, “Wait. Then I’d come back with memories, mouse ears, and the same financial mess I left behind.”

That would probably suck at least some of the joy out of those vacation memories. Maybe it wouldn’t for other people, but I tend to regret spending when it is not done from a good place. I want to know when I’m on that vacation – that I’m sure will happen one of these years – I will come home to a clean house and clean finances.

Even if all your bills for one month could get you to Epcot but then come home with two months’ worth of bills and a stack of pictures it might have been better to just pay the bills and postpone the trip.

It Is More Important to Teach Kids Boring Responsibility Than Cram Them Full of Exciting Memories

This is probably more controversial, but the reason I am happy when I pay bills is I make it a togetherness experience for me and the kids. I talk to them about bills and why we pay them and, “Isn’t it nice to be cozy warm when there’s an eight foot snow pile in our front yard?” Oh yes, they agree, it is ever so nice to be warm.

In my fantasies my kids talk like the kids from Mary Poppins with the big eyes and the breathless voices and the English accents. They can also fly and do dishes without splashing water all over my floor. I have an amazing fantasy life.

Speaking of fantasies, I know a lot of parents out there (including ME, so no high horses here) that think if they don’t give their kids wonderful memories they are failing. Like, if the kid grows up and doesn’t have some kind of anchor-memory they are not going to remember anything and we will have just been the bland, “They were fine. They loved me. I guess.” parents that don’t have the other adult-children’s friends going, “Dang! I wish my mom/dad/caregiver were that cool!”

Almost everyone I know – myself included – don’t want to be boring parents. We want to be interesting, we know things because of the Internet and want to share them, I may have spent two and a half hours playing Minecraft with my daughter last night. I don’t even like Minecraft but I was determined to find diamonds in the mine because that would be the icing on the cake of her “stayed up late to play video games with mommy” memory. Without diamonds, I felt the whole thing was a waste of getting lost down a mine shaft.

Of course she didn’t see it that way. She just loved playing Minecraft with her mom. I was the one putting the expectations on the whole deal. Don’t do what I did. Enjoy the moment even if it’s not diamond-encrusted. Also, we did find obsidion, so there’s that. (See what I did there? Silver lining!)

So get the kids involved at a level they can handle when you are paying your bills. Soon, I am going to let them pay a bill. I haven’t decided exactly how that is going to work out but I feel it’s important they are used to it by the time they have to do it themselves. I look back at myself and my $15 minimum payment to Sears when I was 21 and not paying it because I needed money to “go out” and I want to kick my younger self and make her pay that card off and start building her credit for later.

Remember Why You Pay Bills In the First Place

When I get crabby about my gas or electric bills I have this thing I do. First I go to the front door and open it. Then I open the screen door as wide as it will open. Then I either freeze or immediately start to sweat. Ta-Dum! I just reminded myself why I pay my bills. When the weather is nice my bills are low and I don’t get particularly bent out of shape about them. But those dead-of-winter prices and height-of-summer prices are a killer. Luckily those are the times where going outside is enough to remind me why I pay for climate control.

If I’m having a really smart day I look at the laptop I’m typing on and try to even wrap my brain around a life with no electricity. Then I freak out and stop thinking about it and move on feeling a lot less bitter about having to fork the cash over for my bills.

If you pay for daycare or preschool, have a few conversations with your child(ren). They will make you smile and you remember you would do anything for them. Same goes for older kids but the older they are the less a conversation will help because they get kinda mouthy as they get older and it might backfire.

If you have a spouse or significant other wandering around you might want to give them a hug. Hugs always make things better.

Remember Your Goals or Get Some Goals

If you think about a vacation or a coat or new shoes or a car or something else you could be spending the money on when your’e paying the bills, odds are good you do not have a budget with goals.

When someone has a budget they know where the money is going and how long it’s going to take to get to the goal. Then, when they pay the bills and put something away in the “Vacation Goal” savings  account (we use Capital One 360 for multiple savings accounts you can name whatever you want) you think about the vacation your’e going to take in the future and it hurts less to see the money from your checking account or from your purse/wallet going toward necessities.

Right now my Vacation Goal savings account has eight cents in it. We aren’t in a place where we can start saving for vacation. I still make sure to look at it when I’m paying bills because soon I’ll be able to put some money in there. My goal is to start saving for my goal. It works for me. It’s not perfect because I long to take a break and leave the house for some extended period of time that lasts longer than day, but it stops me from blaming my bills and that’s really all I need it to do right now.

If you haven’t written down your expenses and income on a piece of paper or in a Google Drive spreadsheet yet, do that. It’s the most basic of budgets and will let you know where you are at now so you can start making budget-based plans and decisions moving forward.

Stop Feeling Like Crap Because You Aren’t Doing Everything You Want

Whether or not you have kids, not doing the stuff you want can make you feel like a loser. I have watched other people having fun many times and wondered what I did wrong that left me in a position where I take my kids to the movies once a year. “Why can’t I just figure life out like everyone else?” is something I ask myself more times than any human ever should. I’m trying to stop beating myself up and focus on what I do have.

The big one is time. I might not be able to take my kids on a ski vacation, but I do spend time with them, talk to them, and I know they feel heard. That is important to me.

If I didn’t have kids my priority would be spending time with my husband. If I didn’t have a husband it would be spending time with my friends. I’m a very people-oriented person. Of course I want time to read, listen to music, and just dance in my living room but those are all a close second on my list to the people I’ve chosen to have in my life.

While I might not be able to give my kids name-brand clothing, I can give them attention. Even if I tell myself I’m a crap mother for not getting them better clothes, I still know the attention is important. No amount of negative self-talk can convince me otherwise.

Besides, everyone has something they want to do but can’t. Even the super rich have things they want to do that are beyond them. We all have goals, the goals just get bigger and more expensive with the size of your net worth. So don’t worry, you aren’t alone in wanting things that are just out of your reach.

Do you like paying your bills? Do you have any tips, tricks, or ideas for making your bill paying experience more fun?

Doing the Tax Refund Happy Dance 2014

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If you do not think this is the perfect glitter unicorn, well then, you’re wrong.

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I’m going to get the bad news out of the way really quick and then we are going to focus on all the good stuff. According to the state website my state return hasn’t been processed yet. Also, it may get snatched because I may or may not owe the state money. It’s a crap shoot, for sure.

Even without it, however, I received my federal refund today and spent most of the day killing it in bill-land.

Even though we received advice to not pay off the credit cards, you all knew I wasn’t going to go with that option. It’s a weird integrity thing. I have no problem paying what I owe. Now I’m not going to get all crazy and do another budget or net worth update but I just wanted to give you a list to show you what we paid off.

An AT&T bill that was in collections.  We did this on purpose because the money we would owe – $789 – would still be less than we would save switching to Cricket. When I called them I asked how much they would knock off and after a few minutes we got it down to 50% so that’s all taken care of and is still one of the best decisions I ever made. I should have paid it off immediately but really, for half off, it was more than worth the hit to my credit. Even better, they don’t show it as settled on your credit report, they delete it. YeeHaw!!

All the Credit Cards. Not just the ones I opened while freaking out during Christmas, but even the main one we were using to make automatic bill payments for the Internet, the cell phones, and domains/hosting.

The only debt we have now is the house, the car, and the student loans. 

Someone linked to a blog post yesterday that no one should ever center text anymore. So, for the first time in I don’t know how long there are two instances of centered text. I don’t like it when people tell other people how to do things. Especially with text. Especially when the blog in question does not have on-point typography. If you’re giving advice on how other blogs should look you absolutely need to make sure you are into design and typography more than I am because I’m like a step below amateur and don’t tell other people what to do.

I paid a car payment so we’re up to date on that, I paid the gas and electric bills, and and and there’s enough left to get two tires for the car!

The Guitar Center credit card was the biggest win. I used the card with 18 month same as cash financing. Had March 1st rolled around I would have had to pay an extra $250.00 in deferred interest. But not now!

I left my mTurk money in the Amazon Payments account because I’m using it to save for next Christmas. I left the extra money in PayPal to take care of a few months of hosting and domain name charges.

I could seriously collapse from the joy in my heart right now. Or maybe I just feel so light because that horrible weight of debt has been lifted from my shoulders. Either way, it feels good. I’m super excited to do the budget and net worth statements for next month. I mean, they won’t be pretty and they won’t be perfect and they probably won’t even be positive but they’ll be BETTER!

Eventually, I’ll find out if I’m getting a state refund. If I do, that will be our shiny new emergency fund. If not, well, it’s time to build an emergency fund piece by piece. Or, in this case, dollar by dollar.

What is one cool thing you did with your tax refund?

If you didn’t get a tax refund, why not? Is it because you run a cool business? Doing what?

 

5 Ways We Deal With Poor People Stress

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One of the things I have been asked more than a few times is how we deal with being poor.

My knee-jerk instant response is, “We know there is a light at the end of the tunnel.” Once in a while someone gets smart and says, “Really? That just keeps working?” or my favorite, “Didn’t he just get his current job last April? What about before that?”

I always meet smart people. Some of them love to ask probing questions. As you can tell, that doesn’t bother me.

One of the things that makes me different is that I have never felt comfortable turning to God for comfort. The way I see it, he didn’t get me into this mess, so it’s not really his to clean up. I have no problem with anyone feeling differently and, to be fair, I’m totally jealous of people who can hand their troubles over to God. It seems like a really good place to be.

But these are my things that help me in leiu of having a kind and loving God to just take my stress and turn it into origami swans or whatever it is that happens to your stress when it’s given to your savior. I’m not mocking, I promise. I just like the image of a savior up in the clouds forming stress into other things like an artist. It’s a friendly image, not really a funny one.  Almost wistful, really.

Extreme Stress Doesn’t Help

I used to think if I was “on point” all the time and always thinking about everything (you probably think I’m exaggerating, lol) things would be easier. You know what I mean? If you just looked busy things would work out. If I did the dishes three times a day it would somehow keep my mind occupied.

Once you have a come to Jesus moment with yourself and you and yourself can agree that being extremely stressed is not doing you any good, you can start to let those feelings go. It takes a while and I still have spikes of horrible stress now and then, but it’s so much less than it was before I made a decision to not be as stressed on a regular basis.

Don’t worry. If you think being less stressed will make you less productive, give it a try. Nothing is forever if you don’t want it to be. Pick a couple of days or a week where you will just do your best to not be stressed and see what happens at the end. The first day or two might be f-it-all days, but you will find a balance where you get things done and once you do what you can, that’s what you did and that’s okay.

I’m still working on this one. I’m giving the advice I’m trying to take here…not the advice I’ve been doing for years with great success. Just for the sake of honesty I thought I should tell you.

Stay Inspired

I’m one of a small group of people who not only listen to Dave Ramsey every day, but a listener that isn’t an evangelical Christian. Listening to him talking about God and Jesus does not bother me in the least. To be honest, sometimes when he gets all judgmental about other groups of people it bothers me, but I remind myself I don’t listen for his political beliefs, I listen because I want to be indoctrinated and reminded constantly that I do not want to be in debt ever again.

I wanted to be debt free for years before I ever heard the radio show. I told my boyfriend at the time, “I just want one dollar. One dollar that no one else has a claim to.” So once I heard Dave, I was immediately like, “This guy gets me.” That eventually changed to, “This guy gets me financially.”  It doesn’t matter if we’d be besties, it matters that he has people calling in telling their stories and asking their questions and that helps me learn more about my situation. I like to think it also makes me a person with more empathy.

Those are my people. People who are striving to get to that place where they feel secure. I feel the pain of some of the questions like it was my own. I cheer with the people who took forever-and-a-day to pay things off because of babies or life or losing a job. I feel inspired at the end of the show almost every time.

What inspires you?

Stay Open to New Ideas

One of my big sticking points about home ownership is when I thought about property taxes. I need to do a separate blog post on property taxes because I don’t understand them completely, but from what I understand if you pay off your house but for whatever reason cannot afford your property taxes, you can still lose your home.

So really, there is no way to own your home without having a rent payment on that bad boy. If we paid this house off tomorrow we would still have a monthly payment of $235 forever. (Okay, it will probably increase but with inflation.)  That is far cheaper than rent for a house the size you have, I’m sure. But it’s not ownership in any sense that I understand it. My definition of ownership is “it’s mine and you can’t take it” right? So I don’t get that emotional warm fuzzy from a home vs. renting a house or renting an apartment.

I use thinking about things in different ways on other things to keep stress levels down, too. As long as it has some solid logic behind it, it will help reduce your stress.

If I know I don’t have the few hours it takes to determine rent vs. own and what those numbers look like, I put it on the back burner until I do have time. I have a list of things that take a couple hours of research and when I have a chunk, I grab the list and pick what I’m in the mood to research!

This is another thing I’m working on. I sometimes try to do a bunch of things on the list, get confused with seventeen tabs open in my browser and then shut it all down and walk away because it feels like my brain is melting. So, again, it’s “work in progress” advice.

Give More Hugs

When I get really stressed I don’t want to be touched. So I would hug everyone less and try not to cringe when my kids ran up and jumped into my arms. My husband figured out pretty quick I was feeling like a prickly pear and he didn’t want to hug the porcupine any more than I wanted to be hugged.

This made me a less happy mommy, it made my kids less happy, and my husband was grumpy all the time. I realized that I was being stingy with my love because I was trying to be stingy with every penny. Love is not money. Love is infinite.

I said to myself, “For one week I’m going to hug anyone if I’m within five feet at any time.” By the end of the week I was sneaking up behind the kids (and Mr. Brickie!) to scare them with sneak hugs. I got elbowed in the face once, but it was a hilarious accident. now I hug everyone, all the time, and it’s made everyone so much happier!!

Even if it’s not a hug moment, I will reach out and graze an arm or a leg or the top of a head when I walk by. The contact is something that my kids just lean into every time.

If your child is not a hugger or does not like being touched, please don’t think I’m ignoring that possibility. My kids are all affectionate to the point that I am overwhelmed and so that is what I have found a solution to. Obviously, I do not think this will work for everyone.

That being said, if your child isn’t touchy or does not like hugs, what do you do to show your affection? Maybe if you leave a comment and let me know I can be more informed and you can help out another parent that reads this blog in the same position.

Be Kind to You!

I am not nice to me. I think I could do better at pretty much everything if I tried harder. I have laid in bed, too sick to move, telling myself, “You could get up if you really wanted to. You’re just being lazy. you’re not that sick, you’re overreacting.” I insult myself, I am cruel to myself, and I constantly think I don’t measure up to even the smallest things.

I decided 2014 was going to be my year of self-kindness. I am not comparing myself to others anymore (I did this to feel better and/or worse depending on my mood) because the only people I’m worried about are right in this house – with a few family/friend exceptions, of course – they are who I use to measure myself.

When my daughter tells me I am the best mommy in the world? I’ve decided to believe her. 

Here’s the secret. When I don’t compare myself to others I can be the best mommy in the world without taking anything away from any other mommy or daddy or other-mother who is being told they are the best mommy in the world, too. It’s not a competition anymore.

How do you make yourself feel less stressed?

 

Budget Update (Feb 2014)

February-2014-Budget

You can probably tell I plan on making this a regular feature. Hopefully I can keep it interesting and fun. Goodness knows I could talk about budgeting forever but I know not everyone is as excited as squishing pennies to death as I am. You are always welcome to let me know if there’s something you’d like to know about my interesting financial situation. (Facebook, twitter…let me know!)

Also, I figure if it’s not fun at least it’s suspenseful, so that’s something anyway.

Our expenses don’t change dramatically, so this may turn out to be a quarterly update. I don’t even know. Also, I wanted to make the budget before I got the Tax Refund because then I get to feel extra-good about myself the next time I put one together. One of the best ways I know to keep yourself excited about finances and budgeting is to set yourself up to win. I would rather do two budgets and feel amazing about the second one than do just one budget and feel okay about doing it.

So, let’s get our not-so-awesome on, shall we?

feb-2014-budget-spreadsheet

This doesn’t include the Xbox Live Gold membership we get once a year. I could not buy it if I really had to skip it, but we use the Xbox for a great deal of our entertainment and I would be hella sad without it. I can usually find a 12 month card on sale somewhere for $39.99 during the year and then I add it on to the current year.

Also, for you math majors out there you can see that what I have right now is officially not enough. We are brainstorming a solution for that. I actually made more than that writing last month and it’s only the first week of this month, but the writing is sporadic and not something I can count on so I thought it would be best to put a lower number there. One I’m sure is attainable rather than the potential income which could honestly be in the thousands if I apply myself and luck is on my side and I can click “accept” faster than the other writers.

I’m also mulling over a potential side-hustle that has nothing to do with writing and plays more to my love of software. I don’t want to say too much and jinx it because the more I talk about something the less likely I am to do it, but I have a few sketches and ideas written out and I’m just the littlest bit excited about it.

Like I said before, don’t worry, once we are through this winter those expenses are going to stay firm except for adding in gas and tolls. Of course, if Mr. Brickie’s next job is where he’s been told it is the gas will be minimal and there will be no tolls, which means we will be able to save money hand over fist.

We all know that more income without increased expenses is a great place to be. I hope to be there sooner rather than later, but really, as long as I get there at all I will be a very happy woman.

I’m excited to look at the budget next month.

 

Net Worth Update (Feb 2014)

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I just finished emptying out my bank account to pay the garbage and water bills. Okay, there’s a little less than $40 in there so I’m not destitute or anything. (Plus there’s a little in PayPal, a little in my mTurk account, and a little in cash. Really, don’t freak out on my behalf.)

While I was clicking to pay I was thinking about J.Money and his post over on Rockstar Finance about net worth. Finance bloggers sharing right out loud what their net worth is. No fear. So I decided to do the same, because I think it will be pretty cool to have a page to point to and say, “Look, there, in February of 2014 I had that net worth.” Like a third party unbiased opinion.

But I’m also going to share it here.

Assets

  • House: $89,000
  • Car: $10,000
  • Cash on Hand: $300

Liabilities

  • House: $120,000
  • Car: $12,000
  • Credit Cards: $3010
  • Student Loans: $61,275

Total Net Worth: $96,985 (that’s a negative number)

I know some bloggers go into the bills, but that’s another post (a budget post that will eventually get linked here as soon as I write it up) but this is assets and liabilities.

Forgive me for paraphrasing here, but every time I think of this list I’m reminded of the Rich Dad, Poor Dad book by that guy where his “rich dad” tells him the biggest problem of the middle class is that they mistake assets for liabilities. When I look at my small list of big numbers, I see his point pretty clearly.

If I do end up losing this house and renting a place it will actually increase my net worth by $31,000. If you have ever had to take a class to get licensed in property and casualty insurance the words moral hazard might pop into your mind. Of course, if you looked at my homeowner policy it covers my house for $245,000. I even tried to lower it because if something did happen that will scream fraud but they told me the (completely standard, I’ve said it myself) line, “It costs more to rebuild than it did to buy.”

Yeah, maybe a percentage but not a quarter million dollars.

Enough about moral hazards and insurance and rambling. One of the things I’m working on now is a personal comparison of renting vs. buying in an attempt to make the best financial decision possible going forward.

Sure there is a lot of emotional baggage attached to owning and I’m subject to feeling things just like anyone else with a heart, but I think I might be better at setting it aside, too.

I certainly hope so!

Also, if you’re curious about other financial bloggers and what net worth numbers they are rocking, check out the Blogger Net Worth page over on Rockstar Finance.

Chicagoland IL Job Alert: Bricklayers Union

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I usually don’t go local with my posts or talk about job stuff but I’m making an exception today.

My husband got this card in the mail and I wanted to share it with y’all. With social media and whatnot, even if you aren’t in the Chicagoland area (or Northwest Indiana), you might know people who are.

While the starting pay isn’t enough to feed and house a family of five, we think it’s worth the sacrifice for journeyman pay, benefits, and the retirement plan. This is a union job so you will pay union dues and all that stuff. There is a monthly union meeting, too. The pre-apprentice program teaches you masonry/bricklaying basics.

There were two women in Mr. Brickie’s class and the one that did not pass the test was offered an apprenticeship within the union in another job. Also, the bricklayers are great at being inclusive. Mr. Brickie did not see women treated better/worse or people of color treated better/worse. It was honestly all about the work.

So if you are looking for a life-change and think that working outdoors is something you would be interested in, it can’t hurt to apply. There is paper/pencil testing and then the training involves three tests as well. If you can take constructive criticism and correct your mistakes when you’re told what they are, you’ll be just fine.

Please share with your people because this is a really solid opportunity. Visit http://www.bac2school.org for more information.

What to do If You Can’t Pay Your Credit Cards: Credit Card Hardship Programs

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I could not stop thinking about that woman telling Mr. Brickie to stop paying the credit cards.

So I turned to Google to see if her advice holds water. I was surprised to find that not only are credit card hardship programs an actual thing, they can be really helpful for people depending on the circumstances.

Personal Anecdotes

Over on Daily Finance the article includes personal stories showing how using these programs worked out in the long-term. Ultimately, the article comes down squarely on the fence. They work for some people, they work better for others, and you have to know what you’re getting into to really benefit from the program.

There is also the story of a woman for whom the program did not work. She had to lie to get into the program in the first place because you have to meet an income requirement. We had this happen with our mortgage conversations as well. Since we are making almost nothing right now because it’s the first winter, it’s difficult to prove we can pay a mortgage payment.

I get where they are coming from but I’m not going to lie about my income because if we lie and they give us a payment we can’t afford, how does that help anything? At least right now we aren’t making payments, things are working behind the scenes, and we know there are two possible endings to this story. Add in falsifying records and who knows what that could invalidate down the road? I’m not willing to risk it.

Who it Works For

From what I can tell, it works best for people temporarily out of work. In that sense it’s like gambling. I’m not sure why the intake lady told us yesterday that they’ll sit out there for up to 30 years. I don’t understand her cavalier attitude about leaving debt out there just hanging around. Maybe that’s something I suffer from in addition to an aversion to gambling…an aversion to debt. I would much rather not get daily phone calls I have to avoid.

I like knowing if my phone rings, I can just answer it. It’s been that way for years and I would like it to stay that way. Avoiding people, like, actively is something that makes me a little sick to my stomach. I can’t do it.

There is also an article on what to do if you can’t pay your credit cards over here.

My Goal

Since I’m not going to listen to the advice I was given (I’m such a rebel) I can tell you that after the credit cards, my number one goal is to pay off the car. We still owe about 12k on her and I’m pretty sure next year’s tax return will come at just the right time to make sure that’s out latest date for paying it off.

So there are programs out there where you could pay a smaller payment, get a lower interest rate, and even close the card while you are at it. I do hate credit card debt but until I have an emergency fund that is 3-6 months of expenses I just can’t conceive of cutting them up.

Oh, I should put together a net worth statement thing for y’all so there is a reference point. I hate to think that dropping a car debt total here and a credit card payment amount there is all you’re getting. I mean, I’m sure not everyone wants to see the whole thing in chart form, but hey, let’s be honest…I would. I always want to see what someone is doing with their money if they’re writing about it.

I’m horribly intrusive like that, though. You are probably far classier. I salute you.

Professional Advice to Cut the Budget

modem-imageToday Mr. Brickie talked to NACA for his second intake interview.

To their credit, they had all 65 pages of the fax organized and only needed to go through about six questionnaires. They covered budget, expenses, and other financial things. The irony (and I know you are not going to be surprised) is that he used the information we faxed over to answer the questions.

So that was an hour and half that didn’t need to happen. He didn’t mind and was super-polite but still, what is the point of hunting down and sending over all that information if you just have to answer the same questions over the phone? Ah well. Not the worst thing in the world. They got the fax and that is the number one concern I had.

The Advice

Where this story gets a little crazy is in the “budgeting” section. If you have seen my budget, you know we don’t have a lot of expenses. We cut our lifestyle drastically so we didn’t end up in a deep, deep hole by the end of winter. The line items are a little different now because I had a panic attack and ran up a couple credit cards for Christmas shopping and since Mr. Brickie isn’t working we don’t have a hundred plus dollars in toll expenses right now. Plus, we spend almost nothing on gas since we aren’t going anywhere.

So the intake person says we have to look like we are making budget concessions to show we are serious about getting our mortgage right. With the expenses we have she suggested four things very strongly:

Do not buy any more clothes.

There were some expenses for clothing on the budget and she said that had to stop. The items in question? Boots, snowpants, and shoes for the children. Also, one pair of jeans for Mr. Brickie four months ago.

Do not eat out anymore, ever.

The expense in question? A $30 payment for the one time we went out to eat in the last four months. With a coupon. Because I can feed people at a casual dining restaurant and leave a good tip for $30. I’m magic.

Get rid of the Internet.

So, that happened. When my husband informed her that we use the Internet for our freelance businesses she said, “You can go to the library and use theirs.” While he was silently dumbfounded (because who wouldn’t be?) she followed up with, “You have smartphones. Use those.” I am not exactly sure what to say about that except if you knew how much more money we would spend if we didn’t have Internet and the answer to the question, “What do I do with my kids while I’m at the library on the computer for an hour because they have time limits?” isn’t even in the top three of reasons I cannot conceive of getting rid of my Internet connection.

Get rid of hosting.

“Get a free website and free email for your businesses.”

Stop paying your credit card bills immediately.

She said her prior job was as a third party credit card collections person and since that was unsecured debt we didn’t have to worry about anyone taking anything away from us. She advised we call and get them to put us on a payment plan that could be “as low as a few dollars a month” and then use that tax return money for something more important.

Did I mention Mr. Brickie stayed kind and polite during this whole conversation? The man is a saint.

After I picked my jaw off the floor I asked him if he thought the advice was valid about the credit cards. “Maybe she knows what’s what better than I do. This is my first house-issues rodeo, this is her job.” He looked at me like I was crazy and said, “No. We pay those debts off.” I nodded.

If I’m only making little payments – less than the minimum – for years and years the balances are going to become intense. I mean it will actually become more expensive every day I don’t pay it off. She recommended putting our tax return toward the car. If I could pay the car off entirely, that would be valid advice. But a car payment plus credit card payments or only a car payment seems like a no-brainer to me.

Mr. Brickie reminded me that the woman he talked to was an intake person, not a housing counselor. She was trying to help based on her personal experience and view of the world. She was trying to help.

For that, I appreciate what she said.

But the only way you’re taking my Internet away is by killing me first. It’s my only luxury and I’m not getting rid of it. I regret the two weeks I cut off hosting and quit blogging like you wouldn’t believe. I may not be the best blogger on earth but I can’t stop doing it. I guess that’s almost as good as passion.

We won’t be eating out again for at least four months because we’re cheap and thank goodness for my family I’m a good cook. If that makes things look better for the mortgage company, that’s wonderful.

As for clothing, I haven’t bought clothes since I got that awesome $12 dress from eBay a year ago. Mr. Brickie got a new pair of sneakers for Christmas from my cousin so he’s all set with shoes, too. I did buy him a pair of Levi’s that were on sale for $20 four months ago so we’ll have to cut down on that. The kids clothing, however, is not really negotiable. The last time I replaced their sneakers it’s because one of my kids had a flapping sole and there wasn’t enough shoe to glue it to.

I hope the housing counselor can look at the numbers and see that we are living a bare bones lifestyle. I can assure you the $68 for Internet and the hosting price aren’t going to be the difference between paying a mortgage and not paying a mortgage.

In the meantime, they are supposed to somehow get our loan into forbearance which would halt the foreclosure. It would give us a reduced monthly payment for a specific period of time based on the probability of increased income.

So, we’ll see what happens.

We still need to have a follow up appointment with the downtown legal aid people when they have an opening with a housing counselor and then there’s the court date downtown on Valentine’s Day (I really do love the irony of going to court on Valentine’s Day).

Tomorrow I have to decide if I want to put my 4yo through an assessment through the UofChicago. She’s one of the control group because she didn’t get into the lottery-based charter school. They get to be impressed and have fun with my kid and they’ll give Mr. Brickie fifty bucks for putting her in the study.

They just ask her about shapes and stuff, plus they’ll send me the assessment. I do like having information about my kids academic prowess. I’ll check in and see if he’s in the mood to do it.

 

Update on 2014 Goals So Far

march-calendar

Whew! January was one heck of a month.

We scrambled, we worried, we fretted all over the house. Money-making ideas were batted around left and right and center. We researched ebay, etsy, craigslist, and other options of doing things to bring income in for winter.

Honestly, the best thing we did was write.

I wrote articles, Mr. Brickie wrote articles, and we banked cash in Paypal.

It looks probable at this point we will be able to pay our bills in February. It’s not 100% yet, but it’s looking good. The car payment is always the kicker.

I also have to do the taxes today. It is a time I both love/hate because with the kids and the working and the not having a lot of money we usually qualify for both the child care credit and the earned income credit.

This may be the last year we qualify for the earned income credit! I will be excited to see it go. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t give it up in a heartbeat in exchange for making enough in income to not qualify. Income is always better.

I have, of course, a list of things we have to buy with the income tax return. Not a big list, there’s not going to be that much. Credit cards that I opened in a panic right before Christmas so my kids wouldn’t be totally denied gifts are going to get paid off first. Then I’m buying tires for the car because it’s winter and they pretty much have no grooves left and riding around on almost-bald tires is really, really not smart.

Oh, and let’s not forget I have to save first month, last month, and a security deposit if this whole “fixing the mortgage” thing doesn’t go through. I swear, just when I think it’s official and we’re going to be foreclosed on and have a sheriff at our door throwing us on our butts we get another letter asking us to get in touch. We do, and some other process starts.

That can’t last forever, though, so I want to make sure I have enough money in a savings account that we don’t end up in a homeless shelter even for a minute. I’m just being practical. Or I’m being totally pessimistic. Either way, it’s going in savings so I can sleep at night!

Other than writing the only other thing I’ve been doing to add to the piggy bank is mTurk. It’s a crowdsourcing program through Amazon.com and I basically take surveys for money. I know, I’m making it sound like a survey site, but there are other tasks as well like transcription and article writing. The pay is horrific in most cases, so don’t go there excited that you’ve found a way to pay your bills. I use it for stuff I can’t afford like when I had to buy a new keyboard for my laptop because mine was broken. It’s the emergency-stuff that’s not really an emergency fund.

Mr. Brickie doesn’t have the patience to be a turker. I can’t complain. He has done the bulk of the January writing and I could not be prouder.

Well, to be perfectly honest, it took a lot of talks and pleading and manipulation and smiles and frowns and going barking mad to help him see that him doing the bulk of the writing in January was really just the best idea in the whole wide world.

As for me, I’ve got a new partnership set up as someone’s copywriter and I look forward to seeing where that takes us. I set up an about.me page but I don’t think that really highlights my skills.

In the meantime, I’m researching how all those super-successful bloggers are doing things and looking for ways to improve my reach. My biggest problem is that I’m not a niche blog. I talk about finance and relationships and food and health and wellness and everything else. I don’t really want to have six blogs so each one can talk about that ONE thing and nothing else.

I guess I just think that defeats the whole purpose of having a blog. My blog is a pretty accurate representation of who I am and I’m looking for friends. Like minded bloggers and people I can feel safe with. People I can smile when I see the name on my Facebook feed or read about their latest adventure. I’m looking for people and I don’t think I’m going to find them with six highly niched blogs.

Maybe I’m wrong. It happens once in a while.

What do you think? Is your blog in a niche? Where do you put the thoughts that don’t fit? Do you think I could just get away with a really great category system?

The Weather Problem (or, he has a job so can’t get another)

winter-trees

This is my first winter as the wife of a bricklayer.

Since this follows the rainiest, no-workiest year of bricklaying ever the work leading up to this winter was spotty until he found His Company. (His Company is a term I’m using to mean the company he is the #1 apprentice for and will work as long as there is a job. It’s a good place for an apprentice to be, especially with a company that has regular work lined up.) Obviously circumstances could happen that could make it necessary to work for a different company, but his goal right now is to work through his apprenticeship and become a journeyman working as exclusively as possible for this company.

Since he has only been working fairly regularly since June and was in training for ten weeks before that his unemployment is crap. It won’t even pay the car payment.

I’ve been doing what I can with writing articles and doing some crowdsourced projects, but it’s created the old “when I work and you don’t we are both crabby” problem we’ve experienced a few times before.

The Problem

Even though we recognize there is a problem and we know how to fix it there is this mental block. He can’t get another job without burning the bridge when he quits. No one will hire him knowing he will be gone come Spring. He also has the pride that comes with having a job he loves and is good at. He has the pride that comes from going to the Union meeting and having people tell him they’ve heard nothing but good things. He has the pride that comes from choosing a career.

This makes him almost impossible to deal with because “all the other bricklayers” have saved up and get unemployment during the winter. There may be a little pouting but it’s that macho pout that looks more like an angry glare if you don’t know better. I may have also poked him in the belly to make him laugh to test the theory. I do not fight fair.

 

He wants me to not work so much. He knows I’m happier when I’m taking care of the kids and managing the household (finances, organization, parenting, etc.) and he’s happier when I’m doing all that because he feels everything is in balance. Unfortunately, I have this panic that lives in my soul. The panic of knowing unemployment isn’t enough and I don’t know if I can make enough to keep the whole house running and if I do make enough that means I’m spending no time with my kids. None. I give up all the things I love.

So my problem is trying to balance doing enough work to pay the bills while still having time left to do all the other things I need to get done.

The Solution

I don’t know. Do you have one? As far as I can tell “suffer for a couple years” is what apprenticeship is all about. I mean, if he was a young pup living with his parents being young the apprenticeship wouldn’t even be a hardship. It’s not something designed to take care of a family on, even if his lowest apprentice wage is still far and away above minimum wage.

He is doing some work. He did a lot this morning before I even woke up and he let me sleep in, so I’m certainly not in a complaining mood today. It was a nice break and I had good dreams so woke up in a great mood. I just wish I could wake up with some kind of inspiration that would give me the answer for how to get through this winter.

I know that the way to avoid this next winter is to save some out of every paycheck to add to the unemployment when it happens next year. I just don’t know if we will be able to save enough in addition to paying off the credit card debt we have now. I mean, we owe around two and a half grand in credit card debt total, it’s not a king’s ransom, but since we have to save first/last/security with the tax return, I don’t know if there will be enough left over to pay it all off.

It would be super nice if it was, though.

In the meantime I’m taking care of balances and he’s working on getting the car payment together. We have some paperwork from the mortgage company that we have to address. I’m hoping he will take care of that. I really don’t want to deal with it.

It makes me very, very sad.

Our Next Steps

The only goal we really have is to get through winter. I am reading One Thousand Gifts and it is reminding me to be thankful regardless of if the situation is easy or difficult. Yesterday I read Hunter S. Thompson’s advice for living a life you love or having a purpose or some other thing and it reminded me that I get to wake up next to my husband every morning and that’s exactly the kind of life I adore.

So I’m also happy.

Basically I wander around my house being a giant mood-swing. When I notice I’m doing this I warn my husband by saying, “All work and no play makes jack a dull boy…” Because nothing says, “I love you, honey” like quoting horror movies while your’e acting all weird and broody!

Most of my problems are the “should” variety. I should be working more, he should be working more, we should be doing better, we should be working harder.

I’m shoulding all over our lives.

He checks Craigslist and the job boards daily. He’s stopped in at local businesses asking if they need help through the winter. We aren’t sitting around doing nothing. Not by a long shot. He does not want to sacrifice his integrity by lying about why he wants a job to a Walmart or Meijer and then have to call off if there is one good weather day and he goes back to his “real” job. Because we can’t sacrifice this long-term job opportunity for a few weeks of stress relief at minimum wage. It would be a very bad idea.

Do you have any suggestions?